Palestinian Hunger Strike Calls Attention to Human Rights Violations in Israeli Prisons

Posted May 10, 2017

MP3 Interview with Sahar Francis, attorney and director of Addameer Prisoners Support & Human Rights Association, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


On April 17, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day – more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began a hunger strike to protest the severe conditions of incarceration they’ve suffered, and other violations of their human rights. Their demands focus on family visits, medical care, and greatly restricting the use of solitary confinement. An earlier month-long hunger strike by 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in 2012, made similar demands, and resulted in some gains, especially in reducing the number of prisoners held by Israel in administrative detention.

But the number of prisoners held by Israel has risen again, and one of the key demands of the current hunger strike – led by imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti – is opposition to administrative detention. Such detention is based on secret information, where the prisoner has no idea why he or she is being detained. Imprisonment under this status can be renewed indefinitely every six months and some prisoners have been held for years. There are approximately 7,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody today, including women and children under 18 years old.

On May 4, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israel Prison Service, which says 882 prisoners were on hunger strike as of May 9th, must allow the prisoners to meet with their lawyers. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Sahar Francis, an attorney and the director of Addameer Prisoners Support & Human Rights Association, based in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Here, she summarizes the prisoners’ demands, which she asserts are in accord with international human rights and humanitarian law.

SAHAR FRANCIS: Mainly, the demands are related to the daily life and daily conditions in the prisons. So it includes, of course, the health conditions, the poor treatment in the Israeli prison system. Mostly it’s based on painkillers, and there’s huge delay in implementing medical examinations in order to analyze the problem and offer proper treatment. Some detainees died in the prison in the last few years out of lack of proper treatment in correct time, like cancer – diseases that were analyzed in late stage, when the detainees were complaining for a long time, and they weren’t taken seriously. Also, the issue of family visits is very important because hundreds of family members are not allowed to visit for security reasons. Also the phone calls, because all the Palestinian prisoners – even if you’re not allowed family visits, you’re not allowed to call your family, so there’s no contact with your family.

It’s still around 1,500 people on hunger strike, but of course we are not able to visit them as lawyers. This is the most important obstacle we face. It’s a great violation actually, that the prison system is committing, because this is collective punishment for the hunger strikers. And of course, the hunger strike for them is just drinking water, because also the prison authority confiscated the salt from their cells, so they're not getting but just the water. Of course, the individuals that their health would deteriorate, some of them were transferred to the hospital. Most of them will refuse to get any medical treatment, and with the threatening by the Israeli authorities to use forced feeding this is also increasing the threat on the life of the prisoners. Now it’s according to Israeli law that the prison authority can use force feeding. Of course, this is objected to by the (unintelligible) medical association and human rights NGOs, so for us this would put another threat on the life of the hunger strikers. In the past, in 1981, the Israeli prison authority used forced feeding and three prisoners died out of the forced feeding.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I see that opposition to solitary confinement is another issue. There’s a push in the U.S. to reduce the extensive use of solitary in jails and prisons. According to international law, anything more than 15 days is considered torture.

SAHAR FRANCIS: Definitely, yes, this is one of the main demands, actually, to end the policy of solitary confinement as another additional punishment besides the original sentence. It’s used very often and for longer periods, like some people spend ten years in solitary confinement in the Israeli prison system. Currently, all the Palestinian prisoners on the hunger strike are punished by solitary confinement so already they are isolated for three weeks. As you said, this is a violation for the international law and considered to be torture. Unfortunately, this is not accepted by the Israeli court.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Sahar Francis, what’s been the response to the hunger strike, both in Israel and in Palestine?

SAHAR FRANCIS: In the Israeli public in general, there’s no support. Of course, you always can find left people who are aware of the problems of the Palestinian prisoners and the whole circumstances. So, of course, there is solidarity but it’s very small; it’s coming from individuals and the human rights NGOs. But in general, the Israeli public is ignorant of this case. For them, these are terrorist people and they deserve the imprisonment and these punishments. In the media and official statements by the Israeli officials are very inciting and calling for punishing more seriously these prisoners, because for them they are terrorists and not political prisoners or human beings.

In the Palestinian context, it’s totally different, because you wouldn’t find any Palestinian house that they didn’t experience imprisonment at least once. So, talking about 6,500, that’s a big number, so all the community would understand totally, and there’s lot of solidarity activity since the beginning of the hunger strike taking place and in support for the prisoners – like two weeks ago, there was a general strike in Palestinian society for one day; it will be repeated this week on Thursday as well. The tents are in every city center where people can come and show solidarity with the prisoners, and so on. There’s also international initiatives by solidarity groups taking place in different countries. So actually, it is a very important issue for the Palestinian people; it’s one of the most essential cases for the future peace process. I think without releasing all the Palestinian prisoners, we cannot talk about just and lasting peace.

For more information visit Addameer Prisoners Support & Human Rights Association

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